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Vol. X. No. 7
Tishry 5613 October 1852

Jewish Literature


(From Dr. Frankel’s Monthly.)

The Jewish religion has schools for instruction; communities erect houses of prayer for the edification of its professors; generous donors provide for the sick, by means of hospitals which they found and endow; the poor are thought of with love and sympathy, wherever a Jewish heart beats with mercy for sufferers; but how does it stand with the scientific knowledge of Judaism, without which there would be neither instruction in the schools, nor prayers in the Synagogues? and still it was always the sole agent, which had the power to enkindle in our breasts the love for the faith into a bright flame, to render the spirit susceptible for the eternal truths, for the imperishable treasures of our Law.

A very dear friend, who is no less zealous for Jewish knowledge than for a Jewish system of life, has enabled me to propound, in the first instance, three questions, for the proper solution of which a prize of 1500 francs will be awarded, with the condition that the author shall retain the copyright of his work, and shall only be obliged to have it printed, in order to make his work accessible to a large circle.

How did and do the Jews understand the doctrine of the immortality? The idea of the permanence of the soul, must, in this connexion, be not less illustrated than the doctrine of rewards and punishment. Investigation is to be made in both Biblical and traditional writings, in philosophical and cabbalistic works, and no less in the doctrines than in practical life.

A biography of Abraham Ibn Ezra; a sketch of the life and various adventures of this great man, indicating, at the same time, all the data which throw a clear light on the life and labours of this highly intelligent Hebrew; with an analysis, as far as practicable, of his theological, grammatical, philosophical, cabbalistical, poetical, astronomical, and medical works.

A sketch and description of the spiritual and scientific life among the Jews, from the close of the redaction of the Babylonian Talmud till the end of the period of the Geonim, or in other words, a review of the epoch in which the Saboreans and the Geonim flourished, but more particularly the first. It is desired to have a collection of all the various <<350>> notices which the different commentators of the Talmud contain, and to comprise all this into one homogeneous structure, which is capable to give us a clear view of this little known period.

The articles must be sent to the Editor of this Periodical, the Rev. Chief Rabbi, Dr. Frankel (at Dresden, Germany). The time for the transmission is, for the first question, to the end of September, 1853, and for the second question, to the end of September, 1854, and for the third question, to the end of September, 1855. The award for each of the three questions shall be given by three of the most eminent men in the particular branch to which the respective question belongs, (and whose names, after their consent is obtained, shall be published in this periodical six months before the time of the transmission, to wit: in April, 1853,1854, and 1855,) six months after they are sent in, namely, in April, 1854,1855, and 1856. The worthy awarder of this prize, has appropriated for each umpire of every question, a present of 50 francs; and relying on the disinterestedness of the learned who will take up this matter, he trusts that they will accept of this more as a token of the recognition of their services, than a recompense for their leisure.

The works may be composed in the Hebrew, German, French, English, or Italian, but they are to contain on the cover but one motto, which is also to be written on a sealed letter which is to accompany each. Only in case a prize is awarded, shall the letter be opened, and the name of the author be made known. In case all the umpires are unanimous in designating the same work, it shall be so announced; should but two agree, it will be stated that “the award is made through a majority of votes;” in case each of the umpires designate a different work, the prize shall be held back till the next year, in order to give the respective candidates time to revise their works, and to render them worthy of distinction. No umpire is to be permitted to become a competitor for the prize. The manuscript is for the present to remain the property of the Beth Hammidrash founded at Paris; but the author is empowered to have a copy made of it for his own use. The money has been de­posited with Monsieur Albert Cohn, Trésorier du Comité Consistorial de Paris, Rue Richer, 42; and this gentleman has assumed the responsibility of transmitting the respective prizes, free of charge, to the competitors, and also at each time to announce in connexion, the opinion of the various umpires, in reports which are to be published in this Periodical. In conclusion, all Jewish Magazines, and all those, like wise, who engage in similar pursuits in various countries, are respect­fully requested to insert this notice in their respective works, in order <<351>> that the knowledge thereof may be conveyed where it can be of service.

Note by the Editor.—The above is contained in a letter from Paris, inserted in the April number of the Monthly Magazine, commenced last October, by Chief Rabbi, Dr. Frankel, in Dresden, the Capital of the kingdom of Saxony. The work has only reached us since our August No., as our order for it has only just been filled; and we seize the first moment to comply with the request of the learned Rabbi and his correspondent to spread the information the above letter conveys before the Israelites residing in America; and we trust that one or more of the expected essays may be sent from this country, although we fear that the absence of libraries for reference may be a bar to a successful competition on this side of the Atlantic. But whether this be so or not, it affords us a real gratification to record the fact that there is at least one Israelite who feels sufficient interest in behalf of our litera­ture, to spend so considerable a sum as will at least amount to about 2000 francs, or nearly 400 dollars, for the encouragement of Jewish writers, which amount, though not very large when divided among several, proves at all events, that the donor feels a pride in promoting a good work; and, if many others who have the means, would encourage talent in equal proportion, Jewish pens would be kept busy in illus­trating the history and religion of Israel, whereas now so little is done to stimulate talent to devote itself to a pursuit which is uniformly profitless.

We hope yet to see the day that Israelites in America will endeavour to do something in the premises; so that those who are now here, and may come hereafter, will have some tangible reason, beside the honest impulse of their heart, to serve their fellow-believers in the most important point, by aiding them to rise in public estimation, and to become known for something nobler than the mere acquisition of wealth, which the world believes is the only pursuit in which Jews can excel. It is really a pity that a people so naturally intelligent as ours, should have furnished so small an amount of literary productions in England and America, and of this, so little towards the elucidation of our religion. It is not the want of intellect, for we are confident that several works are now ready, or would soon be, if a demand would spring up for them; but no one must expect that men and women will write if they have to depend on their own personal exertions to sell their books. It has too much the appearance of a personal charity, on the part of the buyers, if they give their encouragement more to oblige <<352>> the writer than to possess his works; for unless the benefit is mutual, the price paid for any book is a mere gift, which no honourable man will be willing to receive, unless compelled thereto by sheer necessity.

Now this ought never to exist; for it is not likely that Jewish works will multiply to such a degree that their acquisition will become onerous to the community; and as regards worthless books, they may be fairly refused, and their writers told that they had better resort to some more honourable trade, than palming trash upon the public by dint of importunity. But good men, who can do service, ought to be encouraged; and this must be evident to all. But enough for the present.